Scholars’ chairman Mark Martyn talks to Ross McLean about a scheme which is shaping club’s future
A MANTRA of something for nothing is not normally associated with football chairmen but in the case of Potters Bar Town FC such a mindset is fuelling the club’s pathway to a financially stable future.
Set against the backdrop of ticket price hikes and the spiralling cost of watching Premier League football, the strategic ploy was the pre-season brainchild of the club’s board, headed by trailblazing chairman Mark Martyn.
The scheme allowed supporters to obtain a season ticket free of charge and forego the £8 payable on the gate for a fix of Southern League Division One Central action in English football’s eighth tier.
The theory behind the pioneering concept was the shortfall in admission takings would be offset by greater numbers attending The Pakex Stadium and higher revenue garnered in other areas such as the sale of beer and pies.
Viewed as a gamble throughout the non-league fraternity where fiscal security tends to hinge on the finest of margins, six months later Martyn is proof that fortune can at times favour the brave.
“The scheme has had more than the desired effect, absolutely a lot more,” Martyn told City A.M.
“The whole idea at the very beginning was to get bums on seats. Without getting bums on seats you’re going nowhere in non-league football. You have to create interest and create a fervour.
“A lot of people thought the idea was mad but it has been a humongous success. The bottom line is attendances have at least doubled and are most probably going towards trebling this season.
“The loss of money on the gate has been overridden by more money spent at the burger bar, at the bar, on raffles etc. People feel obligated to spend money when they get into something for nothing.
“Funnily enough, turnover on the gate is not down that much percentage-wise. The publicity of the scheme has perhaps attracted more non-league ground-hoppers and general football fans, who all pay on the door.
“You could have gone down to Potters Bar high street at the beginning of the season and out of 100 people only half a dozen would have known where Potters Bar Football Club was. People now know who we are. People have found Potters Bar Town.”
After a rip-roaring start to the season which saw Potters Bar Town win six of their opening eight league matches, injuries stifled progress and an alarming slide down the table followed.
Earlier this month young manager Jack Friend resigned his post and assistant Steve Ringrose assumed the reins until the end of the campaign. The Scholars currently occupy 16th place in the league table but are well clear of a relegation dogfight.
While results have not hit their early season heights, an average attendance of 135 and season high of 288 against league leaders Kettering Town makes far healthier reading than crowds of 60 and 70 in recent times. The numbers add weight to Martyn’s instincts about the potential of the initiative and the 58-year-old is convinced there is further mileage in the scheme.
“We had over 500 applications this season, not all 500 turn up at the same time but they will at some stage. That’s just in the first year. We’d hope to make that a 1000 next season,” added Martyn. “Off the back of the free season tickets we’ve got more advertising boards this season than we’ve ever had before, we’ve got more people involved in the club. The bar is now open nearly every day.
“These days, even to go to a Championship game will cost an individual with two kids in the region of £70. If they go to a Premier League clash it will cost over three figures. We are making local football affordable and we know for a fact a lot of non-league clubs have been looking at us.”
The free season tickets initiative is also set to stoke more tangible benefits in terms of bricks and mortar and help the Hertfordshire outfit realise a long-term ambition of a new clubhouse ahead of the 2016/17 campaign.
“A lot of this extra money has been put to one side and we’re in the process of building a new clubhouse, something talked about at the club for the last 10-15 years. Suddenly, it’s happening,” said Martyn. “Our ground now is a bit like tin-pot alley but the club is going places.”